for those who hurt so hard they cannot hope

"There is a secret medicine given only to those who hurt so hard they can't hope.  The hopers would feel slighted if they knew."


I heard about the fires in Napa and Sonoma this weekend, while I was in Pennsylvania for a speaking engagement.  I flew back late last night -- and I was asleep when the plane landed, so I didn't see California from the air.  

It was a long day of traveling, and when I deplaned around midnight, I waited for my suitcase at baggage claim for nearly an hour.  Then the belt stopped and I went to the assistance counter and found that my bag somehow hadn't gotten transferred when I connected in Atlanta.  I spent another 30 minutes filing a claim.  By the time I got home, it was nearly 2 a.m. and I fell into bed. 

I woke up at dawn to get some water.  My room was warm, so I opened the door that leads from my room to a small landing at the back of the house.  Within minutes, my room filled with the acrid scent of smoke.  When the sun came up a little while later, I saw that smoke is hanging over the city like a dull gray blanket, making it impossible to see the homes and hills that used to be my view. 

The pictures from Wine Country are devastating.  Ash, debris and charred trees are all that's left standing where so many people's neighborhoods and churches and homes used to be.  So far, 13 people have died -- including an elderly couple who was married in Napa in 1942, who were unable to escape the flames that claimed their home -- and their lives.

The air in San Francisco is not safe to breathe.  The shelf at the drug store where masks used to be is empty. 

This morning when I began to write, I was tired and heartbroken.  I could no more see a way forward for our community than I could see the Bernal Heights hill that used to be my favorite point on the horizon.  And this is just me, living 40 miles south of where the fires actually are, with no property or family members' lives at stake.  

But still.

It's another reminder of how much unexpected pain and suffering brothers and sisters here and around the world encounter every day.  

What are we to do in these moments?  In which direction do we move when smoke -- and tears -- make it impossible to see?  

How do we, people of what Peter called a Living Hope that's guarded for us in eternity, walk in truth we know but struggle to see sometimes?

One of my favorite poets, Rumi, said there's a secret medicine for those who hurt so hard they can't hope.  

Those who hurt so hard they can't hope. The phrase has been echoing in my thoughts all morning.

What's the secret medicine?

What holds and heals and sustains us in tragedy and heartache and loss?

I don't know the full answer to that question (yet), but for today, I think the secret medicine is Love.  

Paul said that in I Corinthians 13, which is nicknamed the Love Chapter.  In the last verse of the chapter, he says, "Now these three remain: Faith, Hope and Love. But the greatest of these is Love."

When darkness threatens our faith and hurt steals our hope, we are carried by a Love we cannot comprehend.  We are held by arms we cannot see.  We are soothed by a Divine Whisper that loves to sing over us. 

And we are strengthened as we not only experience this Love, but begin to practice it with one another.  One kind act, one step forward, one life-saving breath at a time.